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Apr 28, 2007 08:15 PM

Cuba de Ayer Report

Six of us gathered together for a dinner way out in Burtonsville, MD which really is in the middle of nowhere... even if you live in nearby Laurel. Compounding the problem is the the address is on Old Columbia Rd (29), and the restaurant is on 198, so it's doubly difficult to find.

Not sure if it is worth the effort.

Even though I am an ex-Miamian, I don't consider myself too picky when it comes to Cuban food. Still, some of the dishes we had failed to meet my expectations. The big sinners were the ropa vieja, which was powerfully salty and impossibe to chew, and the black beans which were not only extra salty, but extra sludgy as well. Was there a thickener used?

Arroz con pollo is pretty darn good, though is not made to order. Made me wonder if anyone would wait 35 minutes anymore for freshly made.

Pork has not been masterd here. Masitas were non-descript as was the lechon asada. Where was the savory punch from a good blood orange or vinegar?

The vaca frita was a highly unusual feathery version, almost like a cross betwen steak and cotton candy. Delicious. They did a good job with the tasty picadillo as well, but quite a small portion of this ground beef dish.

Tostones seemed not to be made to order and take a massive backseat to those at Cubano's in Silver Spring. Maduros, also, were not piping hot fresh. Mojo sauce here turns out to be nothing more than garlic in olive oil.

I have a bias against fried emanadas, but even then the filling was skimpy and a bit bland.

Overall, a nice enough place, with a few good items, but nothing that could really touch Cubano's sampling platter. I have yet to get to Cuban Corner in Rockville.

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  1. Glad I didn't miss too much by not being able to join you.

    Is that (mostly, I think) Cuban place in Clarendon still open? The one in that courtyard on Wilson Boulevard a bit west of the Metro station?

    1 Reply
    1. re: MikeR

      La Cantinita in Clarendon was a jewel, but it is long gone.

    2. Steve, thanks for the report. I had had a rather forgettable meal there sometime last year, but as I have little experience with Cuban food and only tried a couple of items I thought perhaps I had ordered wrong. This time around was much better, although the food was mostly pleasant without being particularly memorable. The kitchen had a very heavy hand with the salt which was noticeable in most of the dishes. I agree that the vaca frita was a definite standout, though I am a sucker for fried foods. There was some shredded onion in there in addition to the meat. I don't know that I'd go out of my way for Cuba de Ayer, but since I sometimes have occasion to go to Columbia I would probably stop by just for this dish.

      One more note -- this place is definitely a better deal at lunch, as the entree prices were in the $8-$9 range for lunch and $12-$14 range for dinner.

      I have been to Cuban Corner (although it was several years ago), and between there and Cuba de Ayer, I still don't think I've had an "Aha!" moment yet with Cuban food. But I look forward to trying the sampler at Cubano's.

      1 Reply
      1. re: alopez

        If you go get the bandeja (sampling platter) at Cubano's, first of all bring a friend, because for $14 it is an awful lot of food. Also, in addition to the killer mojo sauce that comes with it, ask for some cilantro aioli on the side. Both sauces are divine.

      2. Thanks for the report, Steve. I wish I could have joined for the company, but it sounds like not for the food. I travelled in Cuba for roughly 10 days in 2000 and based on that experience, I would say if they can't cook their pork, they're not really Cuban. The Cubans really know how to treat a pig...

        1 Reply
        1. re: Smokey

          I also couldn't go with the gang the other day, but when I went to Cuba de Ayer last year I didn't think it was any better than Cuban Corner in Rockville (though a bit cheaper).

          Smokey, sounds like we need to hit Cuban Corner soon!

        2. Steve

          Sorry to hear of this bad experience. I've eaten there and recommended it, and my experience (now out-of-date) certainly was better than yours. Something must have happened in the meantime. So it goes--once again, restaurant quality is never better than your most recent visit, and then only if really recent.

          On a more positive note, as I posted a few minutes ago on Rockwell, there is recent info that Chang has returned to VA somewhere. I'll follow up with more info when I get some.

          1. Hello. First chowhounds post. alopez brought me with him on Saturday.

            I'm afraid I cramped everyone's style by being a non-pork-eater and skewing the choices to beefiness.

            This was my first experience with Cuban food. I gather this was not the place to form an opinion of it. I actually liked the fried beef empanadas. Reminded me of beef samosas, but with a slightly different touch. Didn't find them more bland than the rest of the food. (Actually, that didn't come out quite right.)

            I did like the vaca frita, just like Steve. I also liked the stew version of it, the ropa vieja. The tostones were OK, but I have no point of reference. The maduros were tasty, I thought, if not fresh. I liked the saltiness of the food in general, it made up for its (apparently typically Cuban) lack of hotness---that includes the black beans.

            Arroz con pollo was pretty good too. I have a dislike of Spanish paellas, having never had a good one even in Spain---I am biased from infancy by a subcontinental palate to be very picky about rice dishes. I liked the the Cuban arroz con pollo better than Spanish paella, for sure, but European-derived cultures should still avoid rice dishes and leave them to the experts, in my opinion :)

            I said that the ropa vieja was good. BUT I am still suffering from the Indo/Pak-bias about curries.

            Well, so, I don't regret eating there, but the location is terrible and the food is not great enough to make it an obvious or regular choice.

            1 Reply
            1. re: asayeed

              Thanks for your first post. I hope we see more of you. Especially if you wouldn't mind pointing us to your favorite haunts! Paya, anyone? Just send me your e-mail address. Sometimes just one killer dish can make a whole restaurant worth it.